Elizabeth Peacock: 100 days to change Britain as government shows vision

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NOW the Budget has been delivered, the next major event for David Cameron’s government will be the 100-day landmark next month. It will be another crucial watershed.

If you look at history, all the successful governments of the past hit the ground running after being elected to power. Clement Attlee did it in 1945, Margaret Thatcher did so in 1983 after her Falklands success and Tony Blair moved forward with New Labour in 1997.

I have some experience of a government hitting the ground running and setting out its policy and intentions in its first days. In 1983, when I first went to Westminster as the new girl, I found the speed and intensity of Margaret Thatcher’s programme of work overwhelming.

We were almost constantly in committee on bills that were prepared before the election and which she wished to push through Parliament at an early date. I spent the early part of 1984 working two or three nights per week into the early hours, but she got the job done in typical Thatcher style.

I am greatly impressed by the David Cameron’s first hundred days as he is taking a similar line with pre-prepared plans and legislation for early Commons consideration.

To achieve this he sensibly left most of the people filling the Great Offices of State in the coalition in place so that they could spearhead the work without pause – George Osborne at the Treasury, Theresa May at the Home Office, Iain Duncan Smith at Welfare and Philip Hammond at the Foreign Office are all dedicated to make progress.

The Cameron/ Osborne team have in the past received plenty of media criticism with “posh boy” labels, which is somewhat unfair as the country needs people with ability, intellect and dedication from wherever they are available. Thank goodness the British people made the sensible choice in the General Election after being frightened by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. They also realised that Ed Miliband was a trade union puppet and not Prime Minister material.

George Osborne, with his well-structured Budget, has this week demonstrated that he is crucial to the management of our economy, the development of a new regional strategy for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and, more importantly, devolution of powers to the great cities of the North.

His appreciation of the need to balance taxation and spending, particularly in the welfare area, is impressive. He has a steady hand on the economy and reads the financial pulse with skill.

Further savings are inevitable so getting them through Parliament is a necessity. There will always be winners and losers in change, so the skill of handling this sort of policy is in its introduction. We do not want a new Poll Tax reaction as arose in the Thatcher era. In theory, there was not much wrong with the concept of the Poll Tax, but we made a first-class mess of the introduction which should have been spread over several years.

Iain Duncan Smith is quite capable of working with George Osborne to create welfare changes. There is clear support from thinking people that welfare provision has to be modified as there are some people who have never worked and have no intention of doing so unless they are driven by economic necessity. The basic problem is that successive governments have been too generous with welfare provision. Even Margaret Thatcher was guilty of this.

Despite the Greece financial crisis and Tunisian tragedy, David Cameron has set out his stall on negotiations with our European colleagues prior to our coming referendum on the future of Britain in the European Union. In 1974, when we last considered the matter, most of us thought we had voted for a trading Europe, but we were misled as it became a political body for “ever closer union”.

The Prime Minister appears to be making a valiant effort to impress on our European colleagues that we must have change and revert to the trading nature of the organisation. If this is not achieved, the British people will have a major decision to make and are likely to record their support for an “Out” vote. At this stage, he appears to be having some success with the idea of moving control back to Westminster and our courts, but the matter is all to play for at present.

In the meantime, the focus here is on the Northern Powerhouse and the Government, within its first 100 days, has already confirmed its manifesto pledge to devolve control of policy issues to our regions and cities. However the success of this will very much depend on the co-operation of local politicians.

It seems to me that here in Yorkshire we are in danger of falling behind the initiatives of other cities and regions due to our innate ability to argue amongst ourselves.

In Yorkshire we have a tendency to be difficult – it is becoming obvious that to make real progress we will have to change our ways judging by the Government’s determination to make its mark in its first 100 days.

Elizabeth Peacock was Conservative MP for Batley and Spen from 1983-97.